FC Barcelona defender Eric Abidal has dismissed suggestions the Spanish league leaders would take it easy against FC Shakhtar Donetsk while also giving an insight into the sense of unity pervading the ranks at Camp Nou.
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Eric Abidal seems to have picked the perfect time to return for FC Barcelona after almost five weeks out injured.
The France defender made his comeback in the thrilling and utterly convincing 4-0 defeat of Valencia CF at the weekend and while Josep Guardiola has chosen to rest eight first-team regulars against FC Shakhtar Donetsk, Abidal is in the squad for the Matchday 6 encounter. There are any number of challenges for him, not least that Barcelona captain Carles Puyol has looked eminently comfortable in Abidal's left-back position over the last few weeks. However, the facts that Guardiola is demanding a powerful display from what, in effect, will be a Camp Nou second XI and that Shakhtar gave Barça their most testing match in Group C back in October are also worthy of note.
"It seems to me that many people outside the club seem to be concentrating on the visit of Real Madrid [CF] to the Camp Nou this weekend but the players are totally focused on playing Shakhtar," said Abidal. "It couldn't be any other way because the Champions League is always a hugely prestigious occasion and we all know that there will be plenty of time to think about Madrid after playing the Ukrainians. This game marks the end of our European year and we really want to finish in style and answer the demands of our coach by performing with pride and hunger. I'm fit, delighted to be back and ready for a really testing match."
Just before disappearing from the scene because of a knee problem, Abidal had raised eyebrows by commenting that he was a little underwhelmed by the amount of socialising the Barça squad indulges in, specifically pointing out that he had previously enjoyed being in dressing rooms where a spirit of unity was fostered by shared activities. Some interpreted the words as criticism but ahead of the Shakhtar tie, the 29-year-old former Olympique Lyonnais player was happy to give both an explanation and an update.
"What I said came from personal experience and was said for the benefit of the team," Abidal said. "Since my comments the squad have got together for five different evening meals where most or all of the lads will come along. I think it is crucially important, when a team like Barça are always under pressure and always being tested, to have fun away from the pitch as a group. It's usual that if you can achieve that then you'll reap positive benefits in a playing sense, too."